Words by Nigel Williamson
The combination of the Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and the London-based electro production team Radioclit made The Very Best’s debut Warm Heart of Africa one of the freshest and most surprising genre-smashers of recent years. The follow-up is another life-affirming mash-up of African voices, dance beats, samples and electronic trickery that puts a smile on your face and has you leaping around the room. It doesn’t really sound anything like a Manu Chao record, but there is the same sense of authority and purpose, a feeling that these people aren’t just throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, but have a vision and know exactly what they are doing.
The last album featured M.I.A. and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. This time around Amadou & Mariam, Baaba Maal and K’naan are among the collaborators. The latter once again proves himself to be the best pop-rapper in the business on ‘We OK’, a track every bit as infectious as his brilliant 2010 football world cup anthem ‘Waving Flag’. The highlight, though, is ‘Bantu’, a dense, layered wall of Afro-psych that starts with the uplifting sound of an African choir and proceeds via some spine-tingling singing from Baaba Maal, Mariam and Jose Hendrix into a sitar-heavy global jam of cosmic intensity. So often this kind of studio-based concoction can sound clever but cynical and lacking in soul. The genius of The Very Best is that they make music with a warmth and generosity that you can hear in everything from Mwamwaya’s emotive voice to the last electronic bleep and blip. This is world music in a thrilling new sense.